Show in review: “Marvel’s Iron Fist”
Nathaniel Nelson / Winonan
It’s hard to describe what went wrong with “Marvel’s Iron Fist.” Iron Fist is one of Marvel’s strongest heroes, with an origin rarely seen in superhero narratives. With a mystical monastery that exists in another dimension, chi-powered martial arts and an immortal dragon, you’d think Marvel would be able to make a compelling show from it. Yet, “Iron Fist” isn’t invulnerable, and is easily the worst thing Marvel has ever produced.
Honestly, I don’t think there is a single aspect of the show that Marvel succeeded with. “Iron Fist” should’ve been a martial arts laden joy ride about a hippie kid who punched a hole in a dragon. Instead, the creators saw fit to take a mystic and ridiculous story and plop it into the same urban thriller framework as “Daredevil” or “Jessica Jones.” While that sort of approach works for those characters, it clashes with Fist. This is a character who is not only one of the strongest fighters in Marvel’s pantheon but also on the same mystical level as Doctor Strange. Instead of reflecting those traits, they opted to go a familiar route and the show gets stuck in a rut that it never climbs out of. It should be silly fun, not dour seriousness.
The story itself is problematic, with multiple aspects that should’ve been fixed before release. It starts off on the wrong foot with four mindless and inconsequential episodes detailing the backstory of Danny Rand (Finn Jones) and attempting to get viewers engaged in the story. “Attempting” is the key word here, because it fails miserably. The first arc resolves with a pseudo deus ex machina, rendering the last four hours all-but
pointless. You have to give it props for some things. Unlike “Luke Cage” and “Jessica Jones,” “Iron Fist” avoids having a weak final third by starting off weak from the get-go. It’s a genius way to get around the issue, if you ask me.
Jones put in his best efforts to make Rand a likable character, but the story takes itself way too seriously to let that happen. Rand is portrayed as a one-dimensional white savior archetype with some anger issues—a far cry from the upbeat yoda-esque “hero for hire.” Instead of being a bit eclectic, he comes off as an entitled rich white kid who spent some time in Asia after college and can’t stop talking about it. That’s the problem with Iron Fist: his backstory, as a white guy who was raised in a monastery and taught kung fu, is a bit problematic to begin with. That said, the script doesn’t do that any favors.
The supporting cast, on the other hand, does a solid job holding “Iron Fist” together. The Meachum siblings, played by Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup, are great as foils for Rand, with Pelphrey pulling in easily the best performance of the cast. Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) is the other stand out, but her character feels underdeveloped and too trope-reliant for a large portion of the season. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the acting is, by any measure, bad. However, the material they had to work with was clunky and poorly written, so they did their best.
Perhaps this could’ve been salvaged by some interesting direction or style, but of course, Marvel had to miss the mark on that too. Each of the past three series had distinct visual styles, matching the characters and the world closely. “Luke Cage”’s soundtrack alone is enough to put it near the top of the genre. “Iron Fist” is just bland and uninspired—a nonstop barrage of grays and browns. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, pops out visually. Not even the action scenes can save the show, but that likely has to do with the fact that they’re some of the most vapid set pieces Netflix have ever produced.
At the very least, there are a few bright spots near the end of the series. The last few episodes actually accomplish establishing Iron Fist as a powerhouse, and there are several threads that will inevitably lead toward the big Defenders team-up. Aside from those, the show is a total wash. If you’re a Marvel completionist, you might find some semblance of entertainment in here, but for everyone else, save your 13 hours for something more meaningful. 1/5
By Nathaniel Nelson